Cultural Contact and Linguistic Relativity among the Indians of Northwestern California

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Examines the linguistic relativity principle in relation to the Hupa, Yurok, and Karuk Indians

Despite centuries of intertribal contact, the American Indian peoples of northwestern California have continued to speak a variety of distinct languages. At the same time, they have come to embrace a common way of life based on salmon fishing and shared religious practices. In this thought-provoking re-examination of the hypothesis of linguistic relativity, Sean O’Neill looks closely at the Hupa, Yurok, and Karuk peoples to explore the striking juxtaposition between linguistic diversity and relative cultural uniformity among their communities.

O’Neill examines intertribal contact, multilingualism, storytelling, and historical change among the three tribes, focusing on the traditional culture of the region as it existed during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He asks important historical questions at the heart of the linguistic relativity hypothesis: Have the languages in fact grown more similar as a result of contact, multilingualism, and cultural convergence? Or have they instead maintained some of their striking grammatical and semantic differences? Through comparison of the three languages, O’Neill shows that long-term contact among the tribes intensified their linguistic differences, creating unique Hupa, Yurok, and Karuk identities.

If language encapsulates worldview, as the principle of linguistic relativity suggests, then this region’s linguistic diversity is puzzling. Analyzing patterns of linguistic accommodation as seen in the semantics of space and time, grammatical classification, and specialized cultural vocabularies, O’Neill resolves the apparent paradox by assessing long-term effects of contact.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780806139227
  • Publisher: University of Oklahoma Press
  • Publication date: 5/23/2008
  • Pages: 356
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Sean O'Neill is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Oklahoma. He is coeditor of The Collected Works of Edward Sapir, volume 14.

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations

Guide to the Orthographies

Introduction 3

Pt. 1 Language, Culture, and the Principle of Linguistic Relativity 15

1 Language and Culture in Northwestern California 17

2 Linguistic Relativity and the Puzzle of Northwestern California 35

Pt. II The Spatial World 67

3 Geographical Spatial Orientation 69

4 Linguistic Systems of Spatial Reference 82

5 Geography and Cosmology 121

Pt. III The Realm of Time 135

6 The Linguistic Classifications of Time 137

7 The Linguistic Construction of Time in Narrative 178

Pt. IV Classification and Cultural Meaning 199

8 Classifying Experience through Language 201

9 Cultural Meaning in Everyday Vocabulary 235

Pt. V From Language Contact to Linguistic Relativity 255

10 Language Contact, Multilingualism, and Divergent Drift 257

11 Contact, Extremism, and Linguistic Relativity in Northwestern California 285

Epilogue 308

Notes 309

References 337

Index 347

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